“Are you running away too?” That question haunts me to this very day. Imagine a prisoner-of-war finding his cell door wide open one day. A nearby guard says to the only remaining prisoner, “the rest of the prisoners just ran away and escaped. Are you running away too?” What might that prisoner do? Run? Stay? Will there be consequences for escaping or staying? My 15-year-old mind was spinning from trying to process the dichotomy of the dilemma I now faced.
Only moments before, the other two participants and I were comrades in this weird isolation program that we had to accept as ‘normal’. Now, they both just informed our ‘counsellor’, Brother Dan, that they are running away – leaving the Canaan Land program after only a few months. They were nowhere near finished their year-long sentence, but this was a perfect opportunity for them to escape. Our transport van was parked right outside the doors of Christian Centre church, and this time, “warden” Jim wasn’t present. He had left his son, “Brother Dan”, in charge of transporting us to and from church service in Saskatoon that evening while he stayed behind to tend to business. For the first time it was just our ‘counselor’, Brother Dan, and the 3 of us participants – Brother Mitch, Brother Steve, and myself, Brother Mark. The program made us go by those weird salutations.
The other two participants announced their intentions; “Hey, we’re leaving the program. We’re just going to stay with our family here in Saskatoon. Bye.” They grabbed their luggage out of the back of the transport van and immediately took off. I was probably about as stunned as Brother Dan was as I watching them quickly walk away with their suitcases unexpectedly. Brother Dan took a few moments, then turned to me and asked: “are you running away too?” I desperately wanted to leave and go back home where I belonged! For a few brief blissful moments I fantasized about the idea of freedom again, but then caved in defeat as I realized my crushing reality; I had nobody. I felt like I was a youth outcast from my church and school community – I was somebody horrible that had to be in a program for bad people.
Home was unsafe since my parent was involved in that church/school that sent me away. In fact, home is where I literally was when they came and whisked me away. Plus, I had already asked to go back home early on and the church leaders already gave me a firm “no”. I had no other family contacts, outside friends, or options. My will was already broken previously, so I was powerless to resist. And I was too abandoned to have anywhere to even “run away” to. An awful realization about myself was now taking over me; there were about 300 adults and their kids who were my only community and they were all in that “church” building just mere few footsteps outside the transport van I was in. They all just saw me and my “Brothers” in this program in church tonight. The entire world I lived in – my fellow church congregants, my schoolmates, teachers, friends, and family all seemingly wanted me far away from them by sending me to the remote Canaan Land program. Clearly, something HAS to be wrong with me as a person to have been sent away like this, despite them never even telling me why. All I could conclude was that I was seen by my peers and community as being an unwanted problem to them in a way I was just too “unrighteous” to understand.
My conclusion; I was obviously somehow blind to my “evil” nature that only they could see within me. But for some inexplicable reason, I found myself rationalizing that I would rather sacrifice myself to a life of isolation away from the community and family I cared for than to seemingly jeopardize them by being a present “threat” in their lives. Without any other explanation given, this was all I was left with for ‘answers’ regarding my current situation. Unlike my fellow participants who now just took off, I had nobody in my life to welcome me in their home. I knew detention centres and Social Services were for youth who society needed to help or rehabilitate. I, however, was “sent away” from my childhood community who maybe didn’t think it was worth the effort of trying counselling or imprisonment. Or maybe I was spiritually harmful to others and that’s why this is the only way? I was, presumably, unwanted, and they maybe preferred to keep me far away “forever” except for church services. Like the well-trained submissive church/school youth I was, I mumbled a defeated “no, I suspect I have to stay”.
That long, lonely drive back to my remote isolation camp in the woods was when I realized that that I didn’t feel like I had anything I wanted to live for anymore. Without a single friend left in my world, my ideations for my own “escape” had now turned into the dark, eternal variety. I had nothing but time left on my hands, and a powerful 20-inch chainsaw, alone in the isolated forest, to end the relentless torment I felt. I just desperately wanted this profoundly deep pain and isolation I was feeling, with no end in sight, to stop.
A few days later, I felt a calm warmth as I stood alone deep in the middle of the forest. The chainsaw’s engine was screeching at it’s highest RPM as the powerful unit drowned out the usually peaceful forest. The chain and blade were now smoking from spinning full-speed from the throttle being taped down to its max. I had the machine firmly wedged, facing up, between two heavy logs, ready to shred the next object that dared fall onto the 20-inch chain as it roared. Despite the raging noise, I felt a calm peace about what I was about to do. My thoughts were now of my parent and my sibling. I had no way to say goodbye to them, but I already did that the best I could back when I was first sent away here.
I started counting down as I aimed myself at the roaring chainsaw blade…
FIVE… Remember to keep your hands tight behind your back while you go through with this.
FOUR… Don’t worry, it will all be over instantly.
THREE… Lean straight forward now. Just let yourself easily fall onto the chain.
TWO… Close your eyes and accept this. Just let gravity take over now as you’re falling forward.
25 years later, I am writing this memoir obviously still alive and well. My attempt out there failed. In the last moment, the chainsaw sputtered and stopped due to a mis-feed of gas to the motor. It stalled and stopped a second before I struck it, splitting my nose apart instead of ending my life. Every time I look at my ugly scar on my nose in the mirror these days, I’m reminded of the abuse of the men who “sent me away” under the guise of their religion. And so incredibly thankful to have never felt like that again.